Jalen Brunson Issues 2-Word Response on RJ Barrett as Knicks Take 3-1 Lead

Jalen Brunson, Knicks

Getty Jalen Brunson #11 of the New York Knicks drives to the basket as RJ Barrett #9 looks on.

Jalen Brunson continued his playoff dominance over Donovan Mitchell even as RJ Barrett stepped up anew as the New York Knicks took a commanding 3-1 lead in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 102-93 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday.

Brunson led the Knicks with 29 points, six rebounds and six assists, while Barrett exploded for a playoff career-high 26 points, picking up the slack for the out-of-sync Julius Randle.

It was a remarkable turnaround for Barrett, who caught a lot of heat for his poor play in the series’ first two games in Cleveland, including from longtime Knicks fan and ESPN’s First Take commentator Stephen A. Smith.

“It’s unreal,” Brunson said of Barrett’s play to ESPN/ABC courtside reporter Lisa Salters. “I said before that in basketball, sometimes it doesn’t go your way, but his demeanor and mindset never changed, and it showed in the past couple of games.”

Barrett scored 10 points in the pivotal fourth quarter, seven during the Knicks’ 15-8 start to wrest control of the game after the Cavaliers’ furious third-quarter rally. Darius Garland went hot after halftime with 11 third-quarter points as the Cavaliers stormed back from a 15-point deficit to briefly lead.

Brunson ended that run with a 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter to give the Knicks a 73-71 lead.

After extending that lead to 75-71 at the onset of the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers tied the game.

Barrett took over with five straight points, and the Knicks never looked back. His jumper, with 48.5 seconds left, served as the dagger.

“It means a lot,” Barrett told Salters. “We were able to get these two wins at home. With Jalen and the whole crew, we kept on fighting on every possession.”

Barrett’s explosion came at the perfect time as Randle struggled for seven points on 3-of-10 shooting. Randle’s woes forced New York coach Tom Thibodeau to close the game with Obi Toppin.

The ploy worked.

Knicks Have 95.2% Chance of Advancing to 2nd Round

The Knicks moved within one win away from advancing to the second round of the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2013. They have a 95.2% chance of advancing with an opportunity to wrap it up on the road in Game 5 at Cleveland.

Only 13 out of 271 NBA teams have recovered from a 3-1 series deficit. The Cavaliers were one of those “Lucky 13” when they won their first NBA championship in 2016. But they had LeBron James then.

This time, the Cavaliers have a young, inexperienced team this season, with Donovan Mitchell as their leader.

Mitchell is one loss away from a second straight first-round exit at the hands of Brunson.

Mitchell was held to only two points on 1-of-9 shooting in the second half, allowing the Knicks to take over the series.

Josh Hart Was Everywhere in Game 4

Another player who continues to step up for the Knicks is Josh Hart, who started in place of injured Quentin Grimes.

Grimes did not play with a shoulder injury.

Hart was more than ready. He was all over the floor, scattering 19 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. His two offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter kept the Cavaliers at bay.

After the game, he tweeted, “I love the Garden.”

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